Fitness, fights & transfer requests – Ferguson lifts lid on Rooney relationship
The former Red Devils boss claims the forward is “not the quickest learner” in an eye-opening assessment of the England international in his new autobiography
By Wayne Veysey
Sir Alex Ferguson claims Wayne Rooney’s great qualities can be “swallowed up by a lack of fitness” in a no-holds-barred assessment of the Manchester United striker.
The former Old Trafford boss has opened up on the England’s talisman in his newly-published autobiography, explaining that the striker is “not the quickest learner” and that his condition can detrimentally affect his performances.
Sir Alex uses the example of when he dropped Rooney for a league match against Blackburn Rovers in December 2011 after being angered by the player’s display in training following a Boxing Day night out with team-mates Darron Gibson and Jonny Evans.
“They came into training the next day weary,” writes Sir Alex. “I went into the gymnasium where they were doing their exercise and told them they would be fined a week’s wages and not considered for selection against Blackburn on the Saturday.
“Wayne needed to be careful. He has great qualities about him but they can be swallowed up by a lack of fitness. Look at the way [Cristiano] Ronaldo or [Ryan] Giggs look after themselves. Wayne needed to grasp the nettle. If he missed a couple of weeks for United, it could take him four or five games to get his sharpness back.
“He would receive no leniency from me. I would hammer him for any drop in condition. It was quite simple – he wouldn’t play. That’s the way I always dealt with fitness issues, regardless of the player involved, and I saw no reason to change in the final years of my career.
“In my final year, when he was left out a few times, and replaced in big games, I felt he was struggling to get by people and had lost some of his old thrust. But he was capable of making extraordinary contributions. That pass to Van Persie in the win over Aston Villa that secured the title for us was marvellous, as was his overhead kick against Man City. Those flashes guaranteed his profile. But as time wore on, I felt he struggled more and more to do it for 90 minutes, and he seemed to tire in games.
“I took him off in that Aston Villa game because Villa were a very young side full of running, and their substitute was running past Wayne.”
Sir Alex does not budge from his public stance that Rooney asked to leave United at the end of last season, claiming both the player and his long-time agent Paul Stretford made verbal transfer requests.
“He came into my office the day after we won the league and asked away. He wasn’t happy with being left out for some games and subbed in others. His agent Paul Stretford phoned David Gill with the same message.
“All players are different. Some are happy to stay at the same club their whole careers; others need fresh challenges, as Van Persie felt when he joined us from Arsenal. The urge to fight and flourish would not be extinguished in Wayne. I left him to discuss his future with David Moyes, hoping to see many more great performances from him at Old Trafford.”
In a fascinating passage of the book, Sir Alex said Rooney would get worked up if he was singled out for criticism.
“I admit I gave Wayne a few rollickings,” writes the former United boss in My Autobiography, which is published today by Hodder & Stoughton.
“And he would rage in the dressing room when I picked him out for criticism. His eyes would burn, as if he wanted to knock my lights out.
“The next day he would be apologetic. When the anger subsided, he knew I was right – because I was always right, as I liked to tease him. He would say: ‘Am I playing next week, boss?’ ‘I don’t know,’ I would say.
“In my opinion, he was not the quickest learner but what he had was a natural instinct to play the game, an intuitive awareness of how football worked. A remarkable raw talent. Plus, natural courage and energy, which is a blessing for any footballer.
“The ability to run all day is not to be undervalued. In a training ground exercise he wouldn’t absorb new ideas or methods quickly. His instinct was to revert to type, to trust what he already knew. He was comfortable in himself.”
Rooney was signed from Everton for what Sir Alex claims was a fee of “just off £25million (€29.4m) with some add-ons” in the aftermath of Euro 2004 after Bill Kenwright broke down in tears in the former manager’s office as he accepted the player was heading to Old Trafford.
“Wayne possessed a marvellous nautral talent and was entitled to be given time to make the transition from boy to man. He was a serious, committed footballer with a hunger for the game. At that point in his development, Wayne needed to train all the time, and did so willingly.
“He was never the sort who could take days off. He needed to train intensively to be on the sharp edge of his game. Whenever he was out for a few weeks with an injury, Wayne’s fitness would drop quite quickly. He has a big, solid frame, and broad feet, which may partly explain his metatarsal injuries in that period.
“I knew straight away that he was the player our intuition said he would be. Courageous, reasonably two-footed – although he uses his left foot less than he could.
“With the kind of physique he had it was always hard to imagine him playing into his mid-thirties, like [Paul] Scholes or [Ryan] Giggs, but I developed an expectation when he re-signed for us in October 2010 that he might end up as a midfielder.”